There is no denying the power of customer reviews. As consumers, each and every one of us will have been influenced by them at some point. Research in 2013 by Dimensional Research found that a massive 90% of people who recalled online reviews claimed that positive ones influenced their buying choices and an equally impressive 86% said their purchasing decisions were influenced by negative ones.
It is, therefore, no coincidence that so many websites are now equipped to display customer reviews. But what is not always realised is that not all reviews carry equal influence, and there are ways to strengthen their impact. I’ve recently started a new business venture and thought it was a good chance to share some of my learnings about creating meaningful, influential reviews.
The idea of social proof has been growing in popularity in the marketing world. It is usually associated with social media profiles, building trust amongst new customers through indicating the size of current customer (fan/follower) bases. However, it is also equally applicable to customer reviews.
Large quantities of reviews allow us to benchmark, creating a much stronger idea about the “average” review. Personally (and I don’t think I am alone here), I will always favour a product that has received at least ten 4-star ratings than one that has 5 stars but based on just one customer. This is all fairly logical, as it allows our brains to discount the chance of anomaly and helps us to be more confident in the veracity of the responses provided.
Having a good number of reviews can be impressive, but it is much less reassuring if they are all from five years ago. The global economy has experienced one of the most turbulent times in recent history, with global businesses collapsing on a daily basis. Users will feel far more comfortable about a review if it is just weeks, days or hours old compared with one from 2005, as they will know the business is still active and its products still popular in the marketplace.
Having recent reviews could perhaps also influence customers by igniting a subliminal jealousy; increasing their desire to buy. While not absolutely proven, it seems more than likely that having recent reviews will prove more successful and should accordingly feature in any customer review strategy.
Relevancy & Accessibility
But quite as important as having a high volume of up-to-date reviews is their accessibility and the emotional ties they are able to create with the reader. It is not uncommon for websites to gather all their reviews on one single page, and while this may help create the social proofing mentioned above, it can also mean that, to the casual browser, the particularly relevant and salient ones can be lost in a sea of less relevant or unhelpful ones.
If your website visitor is looking for a review of a particular product spec, don’t give them every review you have ever received. Tailor their site experience to highlight what you consider will be most appropriate for them. This may need significant UX consideration, but it will surely prove worthwhile in the long-term by ensuring that the right people are seeing the right review content and so helping them to convert.
Unfortunately, the internet is riddled with fake and misleading reviews. This inevitably reduces the internet community’s trust in reviews but, conversely, creates an opportunity. The best review systems on the market are those that try to give personalities to their reviewers, not just a snippet of text and 5 gold stars.
Doing this is easier for sites like Amazon and eBay where users are regularly logged in, active and have profiles. But, for smaller sites, the medium of delivery must be well-thought-out to achieve the same level of trust in reviews.
Use of video and photos can also be really useful here, as they add a new dimension of reality to the reviews. This is something I’ve been working on really heavily with my latest startup WE ARE SNO – Instructor Courses, where the target audience is known to consume large amounts of video. Not only does this form of media create large amounts of trust, but it can also increase engagement considerably, which increases the chance to message is taken in.
This is not so much about grammatical correctness and use of punctuation in reviews, but more about how well each transmits the key information to the user. A good review section takes into account that fact that not everyone absorbs information in the same way; some prefer to read the message, while others prefer to watch. Remember also those different customers are likely to be at different stages along their journey towards purchase. Those closer to the point of sale may require rather more detail than those who are just at the initials stages of browsing. I particularly like Amazon’s approach here, as they use star ratings and titles to give a summary but also offer longer, in-depth, written reviews as well.
Differentiating Product and Service Reviews
It is not uncommon for businesses to confuse product and service reviews and fail to understand their respective importance and most appropriate application. To my way of thinking, they are both potentially valuable in boosting conversion rates but should be used differently.
While product reviews are likely to be more valuable to the individual purchase, service-led reviews can have a more rounded benefit to a website as a whole and to how it performs. Considering things from the customer’s perspective, you would want to know that the company from whose website you are ordering is legitimate, will offer a good customer service if something goes wrong, will act on delivery promises, and without unexpected extra charges. Consequently, good service reviews are likely to improve the average order value and customer lifetime value.
There is no secret to obtaining good customer reviews… We must remember that positive, influential reviews are always going to be a bi-product of a good product and service offering, there is no shortcut for this.
If you are unable to obtain the customer feedback to influence others, there is something fundamentally wrong with your offering and it should be addressed.
About the Author:
Ed is a co-founder of WE ARE SNO – Instructor Internships, as well as a Digital Strategy consultant.
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